In Aqua Veritas

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Today, March 22nd, we celebrate World Water Day.

World Water Day has been observed on this day since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22nd as ‘World Day for Water’.

This day focuses on advocating the sustainable management of freshwater resources and also pays attention to the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries.

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Water and water management play an integral part of any agricultural activity, especially so in the case of a farm managed on organic and biodynamic terms of natural farming as at Vineyard Son Alegre in the municipality of Santanyí in the southeast of the island of Mallorca. At Son Alegre, we cultivate vines, olive trees, carob trees and Xeixa, an ancient species of wheat (Triticum aestivum) indigenous to Mallorca, which used to be grown all over the island hundreds of years ago but sadly has virtually disappeared and is only slowly being reintroduced now by us and a few like-minded young farmers.

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During the first three months of this year, we had plenty of rainfall here on our finca with almost 250 litres of rain on our land, plenty for us and our needs but not half as much as in other parts of the island where massive downpours were said to have fallen. That’s almost half the amount in less than three months of what we had last year over the span of 12 months.

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During the twelve months of 2017, we measured a total of 460 l of rainfall per square metre on our land. With an extension of 512,500 m2 (51 hectares), we would have benefitted from about 235,000,000 litres of rain. A large portion of that water, roughly one third, is absorbed by our plants and vegetation, as well as consumed by our animals, by insects, birds, ants and other creepy crawlers. An estimated further one third of all that rainwater evaporates in wind and sunshine. The remaining one third filters down into our subterranean groundwater aquifers which we can then access whenever our vines need irrigation during the high temperatures of summer. We resort to irrigation very little; last year we supplied water to our vines on only four occasions with an amount of roughly 200 to 250 l per plant in total, using some 3,500,000 l in total.

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An old proverb says In vino veritas, a Latin phrase meaning ‘In wine there is truth’. We would rather claim In aqua veritas.

Masanobu Fukuoka And The Four Principles of Natural Farming

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At Vinyes Son Alegre in Santanyí (Mallorca), we follow the Natural Farming methods as developed and promoted by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008). This Japanese farmer, Agricultural scientist and philosopher is celebrated for his method of Natural Farming and re-vegetation of arid land, threatened with desertification.

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Fukuoka realized that nature was perfect just as it was. He believed that problems in nature only arose when humans tried to improve upon nature and use the countryside solely for their own benefit. He became an advocate of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, by creating a particular method of farming, commonly referred to as ‘Natural Farming’ or ‘Do-nothing Farming’.

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Fukuoka summarized his experience in the Four Principles of Natural Farming.

• According to Fukuoka’s observation, the soil cultivates itself. There is no need for man to do what roots, worms, and microorganisms do better. Furthermore, ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Therefore, his first principle was: No ploughing or turning of the soil.

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• Secondly, in an unaltered natural environment the orderly growth and decay of plant and animal life fertilizes the soil without any help from man. Fertility depletion occurs only when the original growth is eliminated in favour of soil-exhausting food crops or grasses to feed livestock. Adding chemical fertilizers helps the growing crop but not the soil, which continues to deteriorate. Therefore Fukuoka’s second principle is: No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost. Instead he promotes cover crops like clover and alfalfa, which are natural fertilizers.

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• Weeds are the enemy of the farmer. Fukuoka observed that when he ceased ploughing, his weed growth declined sharply. This occurred because ploughing actually stirs deep-lying weed seeds and gives them a chance to sprout. Tillage therefore is not the answer to weeds. Nor are chemical herbicides, which disrupt nature’s balance and leave poisons in the soil and in the water. There is a simpler way. To begin with, weeds need not be wholly eliminated; they can be successfully suppressed by spreading straw over freshly sown ground and by planting ground cover. No weeding by tillage or herbicides is Fukuoka’s third principle.

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• Finally, what to do about pests and blights? As Fukuoka’s grain fields and orchards came more and more to resemble a natural ecology – with the proliferation of plant varieties growing all in a jumble – they also created a nature-like habitat for small animals. In such a habitat, Fukuoka noted that Nature’s own balancing act prevented any one species from gaining the upper hand. Left to herself, nature prefers hardier stock. Fukuoka’s fourth principle is: No dependence on chemical pesticides.

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At Son Alegre, we let Nature do her job and we do not assume that we know better. Nature has been making wine for over two thousand years here on the island of Mallorca and we are happy to step back a little to let Nature produce some more great wine for the next two thousand years.

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(Most of the information on the Four Principles of Natural Farming was taken from the website The One-Straw Revolution and can be studied there in greater detail. Here is a PDF-file of a book by Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way Of Farming, if you want to go deeper into the matter.)

Feeling Quite At Home

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Winemakers generally tend to be proud of their achievements, their masterly skills, their finesse and their crafty connoisseurship. At Vineyard Son Alegre, however, we do not have much time for such self-praise; in fact, we don’t think that we do all that much for our wine, really. It’s Nature who does it all for us – the wind, sun, rain, the soil, birds, sheep, ladybirds (Coccinellidae), the moon, insects, beetles, ants, bugs and bees. Believe it or not, it’s all of these that make our wine. The human input in our vineyard is only marginal and we try to reduce our involvement even further.

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Talking about the birds on our land for instance: we have observed that birds have multiplied in numbers and in varieties of species since we established our vineyard in 2002, in the south-east of Mallorca, just north of Santanyí. We must be doing something right in not doing so much to our vines that so many birds are feeling at home on our land. They are happy building their nests year after year and laying their eggs, to brood and to hatch the next generation of Common wood pigeons (Columba palumbus), Common quails (Coturnix coturnix), Rock partridges (Alectoris graeca) or Common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus).

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We have also seen, or better, have heard, the Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) as well as the Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).

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We believe that we have had visits from the Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla), a member of the Woodpecker family, as well as from the Hoopoe (Upupa epops).

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We have in addition evidence of the European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), easily the most beautiful of all our feathered visitors, despite the fact that we have not found their nests or eggs yet. We are on the lookout, though.

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We have admired the Alpine swift (Apus melba) as well as the Pallid swift (Apus pallidus), even though they would build their nests not amongst our vines but under the roofs of our storage barns.

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There is evidence of the Eurasian golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus) on our land and of the Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

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We get the occasional visit from seagulls; the sea is not far from here and, during the hot months of summer, the ‘embat‘ airstream seems, for instance, to bring the Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and the European herring gull (Larus argentatus) to our property. We do not think that they nest on our land though. We are not sure, however; we are still learning about the wildlife happening before our very eyes.

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We believe that all these birds, and other species yet to be identified in time to come, feel at home on our land precisely for the same reasons that make our wine so special: the fact that we leave them undisturbed and unmolested. We do not plough the soil, nor fertilize our land. We do not use pesticides to fumigate, nor employ chemicals to combat the so-called weeds, neither for plant diseases nor for insects.

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We let Nature do its job and we do not assume that we know better. Nature has been making wine for over two thousand years here on the island of Mallorca and we are happy to step back a little to let Nature produce some more great wine for the next two thousand years.

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All we want to do is say thank you. Thank you, Nature, thank you, birds, thank you, wildlife. Thank you all.

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¡Salut!

At Son Alegre, we are passionate about Nature. Our wines reflect that passion.

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At Vineyard Son Alegre, we follow an organic and biodynamic approach of agriculture. We believe that natural processes and interactions are not only necessary, but are quite indispensable in the growing of quality grapes and, in the end, outstanding wine. We believe it is best to leave nature undisturbed to the largest possible extent. That is why we have not ploughed our land for over ten years because we do not want to harm the microbiology of our soil. We do believe that a more diverse soil microbiome will, in general, result in fewer plant diseases, in a higher yield and in a better crop of grapes. For us, a passionate approach to an organic, ecologic, biologic and biodynamic agriculture is the only conscientious way to make wine.

Ramon lo Foll white

This wine is composed of grapes of the Chardonnay, Giró Ros and Malvasia varieties. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 12.5% vol.

Pep Costa white

This mono-varietal wine is made 100% of the autochthonous Mallorcan grape Giró Ros. It matured for 10 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 10 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in June 2016. The alcohol content is 11.8% vol.

Foner rosé

This wine is a coupage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 13.5% vol.

Calonge 1715 red

This wine of the 2015 harvest is composed from grapes of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot varieties. It matured for 15 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 6 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in January 2017. The alcohol content is 14.5% vol.

All our organic wines are grown in harmony with nature and made with loving care.

The Soil Has the Last Word

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Son Alegre‘s Miquel Manresa was recently asked to give an interview by the new magazine ConCiencia, published in Palma on a monthly basis and now only in its second month. The interview was published in the issue of December 2016 under the heading ‘La tierra tiene la última palabra‘ (The soil has the last word). We at Son Alegre are very happy about this published feature and would like to give you the opportunity to see and read it for yourself.

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For those of our friends who might struggle a bit with the Spanish language, here is a brief translation of the interview:

THE EARTH HAS THE LAST WORD

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The owner of Son Alegre, Miquel Manresa, proudly shows us his vineyard, a perfect example of how Nature looks after herself.

Our walk begins by listening to the “sound of the earth”. This man is in love with his work and his vineyard; he lets us participate in his dialogue. He speaks with each stone, with each branch, and each animal or insect, thanking them for their contribution and collaboration so that this land enables the fruit produce to give us the best 100% ecological wine.

The land is doing the cultivating process all on its own. There is no need for us humans to do what roots, worms and microorganisms can do best. In addition, the act of ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Miquel tells us with absolute conviction that only through respect and love of Nature we can find the balance and harmony we have lost and which we do need so much.

Miquel continues to tell us that the vineyard is cultivated according to the principles of Fukuoka [1] which implies a “total respect for Nature and the environment”.

The particular weather conditions of our land give our wine the unique and special qualities it has. The cold air coming from the sea is reacting with the warmer air which has been heated by its contact with the warm earth and this encounter generates a fresh air stream during the hot summer afternoons.

We tend to believe that it is the grape which gives the wine its flavour, when it really is the land on which the grapes are cultivated which creates its particular taste. This is due to the typology of the soil, providing some elementary nutrients to the vines and also partly due to the microclimate of the area.

At Son Alegre we grow vines on 15 hectares at two different locations, one on the edge of Santanyí, in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes, and the other one in the neighbouring area of Can Taconer in Calonge.

For us, growing the grapes is an opportunity to live out our fascination for the wonderful complexity of the natural environment. We use the classical methods of practice in viticulture and oenology. The grape harvest is done only by hand and in crates, the pressing is done the traditional way, the fermentations are facilitated with indigenous natural yeasts and the barrels used for the ageing of the wine are made of French oak.

At Son Alegre, a very important tool for our work is the lunar calendar. By observing the phases of the moon, the way our ancestors always have done it, we know the most propitious time for the pruning of our fruit, the grafting of plum on to almond branches, the planting of new trees, the planting of cereals, the harvesting of our grapes, the mating of pigs, sheep or horses, or even the cutting of our hair.

He speaks very animatedly, explaining all the intricacies of the finca, that we find it slightly difficult to follow and, more so, transcribe so much information in a single interview.

Nature creates and gives peace, supports us and helps us to find a balanced state of equilibrium, just what is needed so badly in our times. Here, the conversation focuses on education and the importance of keeping children in permanent contact with a natural and healthy environment. *

* ConCiencia and MundoFeliz propose to our readers to use this special set-up to hold workshops for schoolchildren, to give the young ones an opportunity to connect with the land.

We could spend hours and hours talking to a person who conveys so much ancestral wisdom, learned through the work which he carries out day by day in his vineyard, being continually connected with Nature which he loves and so deeply respects.

Miquel, it would be an honour for us to have you at some of our conferences and events. You will always have a special space in our magazine. And of course, we will taste your wines!

To which he responds, with his usual relaxedness, being as calm and cheerful as is his land, that he will gladly share his knowledge with us, our readers and friends.

See you soon, Miquel.

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[1] The Principles of Fukuoka:

Do not plough or turn the soil: In this way the structure and composition of the soil is maintained with its optimal conditions of humidity and micronutrients.

Do not use chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: Through the interaction of the different botanical, animalistic and mineral elements of the soil, the fertility of the cultivated soil is regenerated as in any non-domesticated ecosystem.

Do not use herbicides or weed killers: These destroy the nutrients and microorganisms of the soil, and are only justified in monocultures. Instead, Fukuoka proposes an interaction of plants to enrich and control the biodiversity of the soil.

Do not use chemical pesticides: These also kill the natural richness of the soil. The presence of insects in farming can be healthy.

Do not prune: Allow the plant growth to follow its natural course.

Use clay seed balls.

These fundamental working principles are based on a philosophy of Do- Nothing (Wu Wei), or more accurately, of not intervening or forcing things.

Fukuoka reached a degree of comprehension of the microsystems of the soil and devised a system of farming that desists from unnecessary tillage and unnecessary endeavours of traditional agriculture. His method, which he sometimes called Natural Agriculture Mahāyāna, is based on starting to give and to then receive in a natural way, rather than be demanding on the soil until it is exhausted.

Winter in a Mallorcan Vineyard

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When driving through certain parts of Mallorca in November and December, one will pass by many a vineyard in a state of colourful display – yellows, oranges and reds. These vineyards were full of activity during the months of August and September when the grape harvest was taking place. Now at the beginning of winter, the vine fields appear quiet and sturdy, tranquil, and often quite dead and without any active life whatsoever.

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But invisible to us, there is more activity than meets our eyes. Yes, the Vitis vinifera vine plant has slowed down its business of fruit production but now it is producing a substantial amount of Ethylene (H2C=CH2), an organic compound which is needed for the process of abscission (the shedding of its leaves). At the same time, the vine plant is also producing Abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone which is needed to enter into the dormant state – the period of hibernation – during the winter months. ABA prevents cells from dividing and suspends growth.

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The vine plant is very intelligent in as much as it knows exactly how to regulate its metabolism, its energy consumption and its growth. By stalling growth during the winter a lot of energy is saved. This process is similar to an animal’s hibernation. Most animals who hibernate store food as fat and then use it to run their essential systems during the winter, rather than grow any more. Likewise, the vine’s metabolism slows down during dormancy, and this is partly why cell growth is impeded. Since the plant has to conserve the energy it has stored, it is best if it uses the energy up slowly and only for essential functions.

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We at Son Alegre think it is best not to interfere in this energetic process of shedding and absorption. In fact, we interfere in our vineyard as little as possible throughout the year. We have our unsung hero helpers such as ants and worms, ladybirds and bees, spiders and snails, who help us day in, day out, with the aeration of our soil and the distribution of plant nutrition, macronutrients, micronutrients and moisture. Without these helpers we simply couldn’t do our business; without them there would be no Son Alegre wine.

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Let’s not forget what Nature does, every second of the day, all year round. Thank you.

And let’s not forget to say Thank you to John Hinde, the photographer of the photos of today’s blog entry and, in fact, of most of the photos published on this blog throughout the year.

Thank you, John. Thank you Nature. Muchas gracias.

Soundscapes in the Vineyard

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One tends to underestimate the influence and, perhaps, importance of sound in agricultural practice, or even in life in general. Sound constitutes an integral part of the identity of any given piece of nature or any particular piece of land. Like a human fingerprint or DNA, any given piece of landscape, a vineyard for example, has a unique and individual sound profile or sound identity which ultimately distinguishes the piece of land, let’s say the vineyard, in a singular and, quite possibly, unrepeatable way.

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A vineyard in Pollença, for example, has by the particular nature of its ecological, natural and geologic components and constituents, a different composition of sounds, tones, acoustic vibes and bioacoustic signals when compared to a vineyard in Banyalbufar or another one in Santanyí. A vineyard in Mallorca has a different ‘soundprint’ or sound ‘DNA’ from one in La Rioja and a Spanish wine field has a different sound definition from one in France or another one in California. Even a vineyard in Santanyí like ours at Son Alegre has a different sound ‘persona’ from another vineyard just down the road, let’s say, in Cas Concos des Cavaller.

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Some of the sounds in the vineyard us humans can hear, such as animals, the wind, rainfall, thunder or birds, whereas other sounds are not decipherable by the human ear due to their pitch or frequency. The human hearing range is commonly given as 20 to 20,000 Hertz. The frequency of sound pulses of ants, moths or other insects can be as high as 30,000 Hz and thus, can’t be heard by us, whereas the sound frequency of anurans (frogs, toads, amphibians) can be as low as 6 Hz and are equally inaudible to us.

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But there is even sound created or caused by plants, by minerals and other organic, non-animal matter. Trees make a sound and are even said to communicate, as do mycorrhizæ (fungi which grow in association with the roots of a plant). The earth structure in the Lithosphere and further below makes a sound, too. In fact, one might say that there is nothing on Earth, or even nothing in the Universe, which is totally silent and without any sound. Sound defines anything and everything, be we aware of it or not. Human capacity to hear or decipher sound or noise is not the criteria for the existence of acoustic signatures or sound structures or Bioacoustics.

Soundscape ecology is the bio- and geo-acoustic branch of ecology that studies acoustic signatures from whatever source within a landscape (the soundscape). The soundscape of a given region can be viewed as the sum of three separate sound sources: Geophony is the first sound heard on earth. Non-biological in nature, it consists of the effect of wind in trees or grasses, water flowing in a stream, waves at an ocean or lake shoreline, and movement of the earth. Biophony is a term introduced by soundscape ecologist, Bernie Krause, who in 1998, first began to express the soundscape in terms of its acoustic sources. The biophony refers to the collective acoustic signatures generated by all sound-producing organisms in a given habitat at a given moment. It includes vocalizations that are used for conspecific communication in some cases. Anthropophony is another term introduced by Bernie Krause along with colleague, Stuart Gage. It represents human sources from heavily populated urban regions usually contains information that was intentionally produced for communication with a sound receiver. The expression in various combinations of these acoustic features across space and time generate unique soundscapes.

(quoted from Wikipedia, thank you very much)

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Soundscape ecologists seek to investigate the structure of soundscapes, explain how they are generated, and study how organisms interrelate acoustically. A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the structure of soundscapes, particularly elements of biophony. For instance, an ecological theory known as the acoustic adaptation hypothesis predicts that acoustic signals of animals are altered in different physical environments in order to maximize their propagation through the habitat. In addition, acoustic signals from organisms may be under selective pressure to minimize their frequency (pitch) overlap with other auditory features of the environment. This acoustic niche hypothesis is analogous to the classical ecological concept of niche partitioning. It suggests that acoustic signals in the environment should display frequency partitioning as a result of selection acting to maximize the effectiveness of intraspecific communication for different species. Observations of frequency differentiation among insects, birds, and anurans support the acoustic niche hypothesis. Organisms may also partition their vocalization frequencies to avoid overlap with pervasive geophonic sounds. For example, territorial communication in some frog species takes place partially in the high frequency ultrasonic spectrum. This communication method represents an evolutionary adaptation to the frogs’ riparian habitat where running water produces constant low frequency sound. Invasive species that introduce new sounds into soundscapes can disrupt acoustic niche partitioning in native communities, a process known as biophonic invasion. Although adaptation to acoustic niches may explain the frequency structure of soundscapes, spatial variation in sound is likely to be generated by environmental gradients in altitude, latitude, or habitat disturbance. These gradients may alter the relative contributions of biophony, geophony, and anthrophony to the soundscape. For example, when compared with unaltered habitats, regions with high levels of urban land-use are likely to have increased levels of anthrophony and decreased physical and organismal sound sources. Soundscapes typically exhibit temporal patterns, with daily and seasonal cycles being particularly prominent. These patterns are often generated by the communities of organisms that contribute to biophony. For example, birds chorus heavily at dawn and dusk while anurans call primarily at night; the timing of these vocalization events may have evolved to minimize temporal overlap with other elements of the soundscape.

(quoted from Wikipedia, thank you very much)

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Back to Son Alegre and our vineyard. We do not pretend that the soundscapes at Son Alegre make or shape our wine but we are certain that there is an effect of everything upon anything. The biophonic sound spectres and the bioacoustic ‘soundprint’ of our land are unique, distinguished and individual and affect our wines in a very particular and exceptional way, just as our soil does, which is also very singular, as do the meteorological conditions of our land, as do our organic agricultural practises and our biodynamic approach to farming. The sound does not make our wine but, without any question or the slightest doubt, Son Alegre wines would be different if the conditions, acoustic or otherwise, under which they are produced, would be distinct. Our wines are like no other wines, anywhere.

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Omnis est sonus. All is sound.

Note:

The graphic spectrogram illustrations above were borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of www.beautifulnow.is and www.soundstudiesblog.com. However, these graphic images do not represent the soundscapes of our land at Son Alegre nor its acoustic DNA. The photographic images were taken by John Hinde on our finca in Santanyí.

Tot és so.